Posted April 28th 2010 at 3:29 pm by
in Collaborative Thesis Project, Cooperatives & New Business Models

The Bronx, NY: A Strategy for Economic Democracy and Cooperative Development

Nick Iuviene, above, is one of six members of the CoLaborative Thesis Group.  All six theses examine New Strategies for an Old Crisis: Regenerating Local Economies, each in a different American City.

Nick Iuviene’s thesis presentation, Building a Platform for Sustainable Economic Democracy: A Cooperative Development Strategy for the Bronx, marked the last in a series of thesis presentations by members of MIT’s CoLaborative Thesis Group.

Iuviene’s thesis sets out to understand what is required to take cooperative economic development to scale in the United States, and the Bronx, in particular, where Iuviene worked as an organizer before entering MIT’s urban planning masters program.

The strongest precedent for cooperative economic development is Mondragon, a complex of worker cooperatives and secondary institutions in the Basque region of Spain. The Mondragon experience began with the founding of a technical school in 1943, and evolved into a sophisticated network of 243 companies and a dozen technical schools cooperatively owned by 92,773 workers. According to Iuviene, community solidarity, a commitment to education, a coordinated cooperative network, secondary, supporting cooperatives in finance and technological research and an internally driven, diversified approach to economic development together have shaped Mondragon’s success.

While cooperatives in the United States reference Mondragon as a source of inspiration, Iuviene said they have tended to borrow only small pieces from the model. The Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland are a recent, foundation-led attempt to replicate Mondragon’s model more holistically. Evergreen also employs a strategy unique to the United States context: partnerships with anchor institutions.  For now, the goals of Evergreen are modest compared to Mondragon—500 jobs in five years. It remains to be seen whether Evergreen will achieve a more transformative impact on economic conditions in Cleveland.

Drawing on the Mondragon experience in Spain and Cleveland’s recent experiment with worker cooperatives, Iuviene’s presentation outlined a framework for regional cooperative development. Iuviene’s framework for cooperative development requires: (1) a geographic area in need of place-based development, (2) a cooperative network of firms, support organizations, institutional partners and a coordinating body and (3) an economic model guiding firm creation focused on local needs.

How might this cooperative economic development framework be applied in the Bronx? Certainly, there is a need for place-based development, a strong sense of geographic identity and a history of disinvestment and organizing for economic justice. The scale of the Bronx, with 1.4 million residents, as well as its income, racial and ethnic diversity, presents assets and challenges for cooperative economic development and governance. Iuviene identified opportunities for building the leadership team of a cooperative network, including the recently formed Bronx Green Jobs Roundtable. Iuviene said the leadership team should focus on partnering with anchor institutions and designing a development process that targets needs of anchor institutions, the emerging green economy, and import-replacing opportunities based on local needs. Iuviene will share the final recommendations from his thesis with community organizations and local leaders in the Bronx.

Article by Kevin Feeney.  Photo by Amy Stitely.

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